Friday, October 7, 2005

The renovation of a historic firehouse at 4300 Wisconsin Ave. NW that was begun in June 2002 and scheduled to be completed two months ago is not expected to be complete before spring.

The project, which was already rebid once after the first contractor was fired by the city in July 2003, has also been riddled with problems.

The firehouse is one of several capital projects that have posed problems for the District, including the Washington Convention Center, which had a $650 million budget and was completed in 2003 at a cost of $834 million.

Field reports obtained by The Washington Times show that an independent inspector hired by the District has cited the contractor, Garcete Construction Co. Inc., 81 times for unsafe conditions, substandard workmanship and failures to obtain construction permits.

In a letter dated Sept. 9, city contracting officer Karen Hester warns the contracting company that the District is “very concerned” that the company will fail to meet the Oct. 20 completion deadline. She noted that as of a July 26 progress meeting, the job was 48 percent complete.

The job originally was supposed to be completed Aug. 12, but city officials and Garcete Construction negotiated a 69-day extension to Oct. 20.

According to a field report filed on Oct. 4, the job was still only 59 percent complete.

Dave Aggarwal, the project manager, disputed that estimate.

“Right now, it’s about 75 percent done,” he said, adding that the company has worked with the District to correct the problems detailed in the rejection notices.

Additional documents show that city officials were satisfied that deficiencies cited in 37 of the 83 notices had been corrected, while 45 remained outstanding. The status of one could not be determined.

Mr. Aggarwal could not say when the project would be complete, saying that there are “still a couple of issues” that have to be resolved.

On a smaller scale, the same contractor that was fired from the job of renovating Engine Company 20 — HRGM Corp. — also was responsible for renovating a Department of Motor Vehicles inspection station on West Virginia Avenue NE. The station closed in 1999 for what was expected to be an 18-month renovation, but the contractor was also fired from that job.

Arguments between preservationists and city officials over whether the firehouse should be designated a historic landmark delayed the start of the renovation of the firehouse until June 2002. The D.C. Historic Preservation Review Board granted the building historic status in February 2002.

The renovation, which was awarded to District-based contractor HRGM Corp., was scheduled to have been completed June 2003 at a cost of $2.9 million.

Amid a dispute with the contractor over various construction issues, city officials fired HRGM in July 2003, saying the company had defaulted on the contract.

City officials rebid the contract and selected Garcete Construction, raising the cost of the project to $3.9 million. Garcete Construction began work on the project in August 2004.

Originally built more than 100 years ago for horse-drawn fire engines, the firehouse was to be enlarged, its ventilation and plumbing systems rebuilt, and its bay doors widened for modern equipment.

The engine company’s vagabond crew was briefly housed in a temporary trailer on the grounds of the Naval District Washington complex. The firefighters are now housed a mile away from the site of Engine Company 20, at Engine Company 31 at 4930 Connecticut Ave. NW, where they share quarters with that crew.

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